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Priorities in the ‘alternative budget’

Free college tuition, universal child care, reducing poverty, while greening the economy: Possibilities for Nova Scotia

by CCPA


HALIFAX- The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia releases its ‘alternative budget’ today entitled Responding to the Crisis, Building for the Future. The provincial budget needs to ensure that all Nova Scotians, particularly the most vulnerable, are adequately protected during the current downturn, and that more Nova Scotians benefit when the economy recovers. We need to strengthen public services that will insulate Nova Scotians from a changing climate and a changing economy.

Most concerning is the lack of democratic transparency and accountability that exists when the government is able to make significant decisions without facing a vote in the legislature. Since 2002, over a half a billion dollars has been allocated at year-end without any democratic debate. The Nova Scotia Alternative Budget working group has reiterated the folly of fiscal legislation, which ties the hands of government. Instead, decisions about deficits, debts, surpluses, should be debated in the legislature taking into consideration the fiscal and economic circumstances of the day. “Given current circumstances it wouldn’t be good economics to balance the budget and to institute a significant stimulus plan,” says NS Alternative Budget Working Group member,

Dalhousie Economist Mathieu Dufour. As he further points out: “the government’s debt-to-GDP ratio does not justify making debt payments at the expense of adequately funding health, education and other social services.”

Nova Scotia needs a thriving, competitive society, which requires a highly educated workforce. However, as pointed out by Canadian Federation of Students representative, Kaley Kennedy states: “Straddling students with some of the highest debts in the country, while offering them some of the lowest wages, is an unsustainable approach.” As more people lose their jobs and seek re-training, a strong community college system will be important in stimulating the economy and ensuring long-term economic stability. It would cost the government $18 million dollars to eliminate college tuition in this province. The Alternative Budget also reduces university tuition fees and increases needs-based grants. “These priorities would create a steady flow of educated workers who are not battling large student debts and might consider remaining in the province,” says Kennedy.

Success in post-secondary education and in the workforce also hinges on the foundations laid in the primary to grade twelve (p-12) school system as well as the early years (0-5 years of age). Promised investments in the P-12 system are not sufficient alongside decisions to cut literacy spending and increase class sizes. It needs more funding to maintain and enhances services.

Investments in child care are crucial to our future, but also to our current workers and families. Except for an outline of some spending priorities, no comprehensive Early Learning and Child Care strategy has been made public, with appropriate benchmarks, targets and timelines for the optimal development of children aged 0-6. “With licensed spaces for only 10% of those who need them, a 50% staff turnover rate, and unaffordable fees for a majority of parents- clearly, a different approach to child care is required,” says Christine Saulnier, the CCPA’s NS Director. The Alternative Budget prioritizes creating more licensed spaces and more not-for-profit centres, phases in universal funding, and improves the wages of workers –some of the lowest paid workers in our province.

“Because the government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy fell short, what is needed is bold action if we are going to see real improvements,” says Saulnier, “we call for a 30% increase in income assistance rates and a decrease in the claw-back of wages for those on assistance. When current rates fall far below the poverty line, this is a question of paying for the basics. The most effective strategy for breaking the cycle of poverty is allowing providing enough resources for people to regain their dignity and confidence.”

The Ecology Action Centre’s Energy Coordinator, Cheryl Ratchford outlines the purpose of an alternative agenda: “Instead of aspiring to be a conduit for imported consumer goods and an exporter of dirty energy as with the Atlantica agenda, the ‘Alternative Budget’ prioritizes innovative smart policies, which focus on greening our grid, research and development into clean energy options and sustainable transportation.”

As a blueprint for change, this Alternative Budget outlines the benefits of acting on these issues no matter which party leads the legislature: stimulate the economy, and ensure that we are moving toward a greener, more equitable, and socially just economic order.

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The report, Nova Scotia Alternative Budget 2009: Responding to the Crisis, Building for the Future, can be downloaded for free from the website: www.policyalternatives.ca

For media interviews, contact Christine Saulnier, Nova Scotia Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Chair, NS Alternative Budget Working Group, at 477-1252 or 240-0926 (cellphone). For sector specific interviews, please contact the following members of the NS Alternative Budget Working Group:

Green Priorities: Cheryl Ratchford, Ecology Action Centre, 442-0199
Postsecondary Education Priorities: Kaley Kennedy, Canadian Federation of Students,
Nova Scotia National Executive Representative, 802-4616.
Fiscal Management: Mathieu Dufour, Department of Economics, Dalhousie University
and Research Associate, CCPA-NS: 494-0840.

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